In my first recap on this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, I put the spotlight on a few of the inspirational people that I got to meet and chat with (click here). But let’s get down to business—Outdoor Retailer (OR) is about new gear! Some years, OR is crammed full of new and innovative gear designs and products. Other years, the focus seems to be on improving existing products. This year was one of the latter. After wandering the endless aisles cramming the Salt Palace Convention Center for three full days, there were a few standout “brand new” items, but what I noticed more of were popular and classic products that have been given everything from minor tweaks to major improvements to make them better than ever. Here are a few of my favorites.

Backpacks for Going the Distance

Sierra Designs' new Flex Capacitor backpack, inspired by Andrew Skurka.
Sierra Designs’ new Flex Capacitor backpack, inspired by Andrew Skurka.

There were lots of new and improved packs at this year’s Outdoor Retailer show, but the new one that caught my attention quick—and not just for its spiffy name—was the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60. (Sound familiar, Back to the Future fans?) Weighing in at just 2.5 pounds (s/m), this uniquely-designed pack is constructed of durable ripstop nylon, employs a Y-shaped suspension bar (conspicuously resembling the flux capacitor), and is expandable from 40 to 60 liters for everything from light, quick weekends to heavy, long-distance treks. And the product’s tagline is just as clever: “Where we’re going, we need expansion.” I’m looking forward to getting some trail time with this new pack soon and will post a full review.

A couple other standout packs come from a pair of tried-and-true pack brands. The first was the Gregory Baltoro 95 Pro. That’s right, 95! This pack is a beast and is designed for the ultimate adventure when you need everything and the kitchen sink. Sweet features include a fully customizable Response Pro suspension system and a Sidekick removable hydration pack. The other notable innovation in larger packs was the Osprey Aether 70AG and Ariel 65AG (men’s and women’s). The “AG” in the name stands for anti-gravity—the same webbed harness system introduced in the Atmos and Aura packs a couple years ago. I used an Atmos 65 AG pack for one of the summers I researched the PCT in Oregon and this innovative load management design was a dream to hike with.

Tents for Staying Out Longer

Big Agnes' Copper Spur HV2 offers even more living space than the classic UL2.
Big Agnes’ Copper Spur HV2 offers even more living space than the classic UL2.

I’m a big fan of Big Agnes tents. I have several, and they are my go-to tents for lightweight backpacking, either solo or with my wife. The big innovation to Big Agnes tents last year was the incorporation of the mtnGLO lighting kit sewn into the tent seams. This was a clever way to eliminate the need to carry an extra tent light, with minimal weight added. This year at Outdoor Retailer, their big presentation was the new Copper Spur HV2. This redesign of the classic UL2 model offers even more living space while adding only 2 ounces. If you want to go premium, Big Agnes was also showcasing the hyperlight Fly Creek 2P Platinum and Copper Spur 2P Platinum—these are for your serious ounce-counters.

Other notable entries in tents this year came from a couple of notable brands that have been making waves with creative outdoor innovations. The Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2P takes their already popular Flashlight tent and makes it lighter and easier to set up than before—while maintaining a nice, entry-level price point that won’t break the bank. The other sweet tent improvement was the NEMO Hornet 2P Elite. Now under 2 pounds, this ultralight tent is nearly 0.5 pound lighter, while maintaining the same features and living space that made the original so popular. I’ll be putting some of these to the trail soon, with reviews to follow.

Conveniences for Camp Comfort

Helinox' Chair Zero provides an ultralight place to sit on trail and in camp.
Helinox’ Chair Zero provides an ultralight place to sit on trail and in camp.

I love my camp chair. It’s probably a bit frivolous, and it’s extra weight in my pack—but it’s so worth it! With it, I never have to look for rocks or stumps to sit on to take breaks or cook dinner. Anywhere on trail or in camp I have a comfy and convenient place to sit—and sometimes, that’s all you need at the end of a long trail day. Well, now I need to make an upgrade to the Helinox Chair Zero. Weighing in at just 1 pound, this ultralight, packable chair is a full pound lighter than the Chair One, and almost 0.5 pound lighter than the chair I’m currently using. This is one of the best examples of great things coming in small packages.

When it comes to drinking water in the outdoors, you really don’t want to take chances. Last year at Outdoor Retailer, MSR introduced the Guardian water filter. This ultimate purifier kills every nasty thing you could imagine, but came at a premium price point. New this year—and much more attractive to the average hiker—was the Trailshot Microfilter. Weighing in at just 5 ounces, this compact squeeze-pump filters a full liter of water in just 1 minute! You can also use it to spray-clean dishes. The final favorite item was the Petzl Noctilite. I love items that do double-duty. This tiny headlamp case features a diffuser dome that lets you turn your headlamp into a tabletop lantern or a hanging tent lamp. This is one of those creative items that makes you think, “Why haven’t they done this sooner?”

Look for the final installment of my 2016 Outdoor Retailer highlight series—apparel and footwear—in the next week or so. You just might want to start working early on your holiday wish list!

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